Sunday, 25 September 2016

How not to recover a dropped spanner

About a year ago, I dropped a spanner down a little gap in the engine bay that I couldn't fit my hands into.  Kate and I spent some time trying to find a solution to retrieve it, but in the end decided that the only way it could be done would be with a very small hand and a thin arm.  Around the same time, we had been thinking that life would be better if we had to do fewer night watches.  We looked at each other and a lightbulb came on between us.  What we needed was a very small crew member.

When we want something, it can usually be found by trawling eBay, Gumtree or Amazon.  No small crew members were to be found there, however, so we turned to researching on Google.  This is where we found our true answer: we needed a baby.

Kate and my 6 month photos.  Kate was clearly going to win this race
After ordering, I checked the estimated delivery date for the baby and discovered that it was atrociously far in the future (like, 9 months wtf?).  If it had have been coming from Amazon, I would have signed up for Prime membership to speed things up, but Kate explained that you can't do that with babies so I stuck it out because they don't make spanners like that anymore and I really wanted to get mine back.

Alien visitors slowed our work on Seahorse for the day 
After sailing from Lanzarote to the boatyard in Portugal, we were working on getting Seahorse ready to be our family home.  While we did that, Kate was also working on making the family.  Just before the point beyond which airlines won’t let pregnant women fly, we returned to the UK and moved onto a nice ketch in South Dock marina that Kate found for us to rent on Gumtree.  At this point, our pregnant friends at work were just about to take their maternity leave.  I had other plans for Kate, though, so she started her “maternity work”.  My old manager had need for Kate’s skills for a month and seeing as we were back in London anyway, it seemed silly not to take the opportunity.  During this time I didn’t rest on my laurels, I trained hard for my role as stay at home dad by, well, staying at home.

"You can't do that in your condition"
Kate ripping out the old galley on Seahorse.
She was active throughout pregnancy
Fast forward to now and we've had the baby, Beth, for three months and she's completely useless.  I showed her the spanner that she needs to retrieve and all she did was dribble down the hole, so it will probably go rusty now.  On top of this, she didn't come with an instruction manual.  I mean, not even a PDF one written in dodgy English.  I solved that problem through observation.  It turns out that Beth is just like me: if she gets hungry or tired, she gets grumpy.  Once I realised that, things weren’t so hard.  Considering how adorable she is, I don't mind that she's actually the worst crew member that I've ever seen.  Even though she’s more interested in sucking stuff than tying bowlines right now, I'm sure that one day I will have trained her enough to take a night watch.

The purpose of this blog post is twofold, the first being to introduce Beth to the Great Adventure.  Job done.  The second was to say how well the birth went.  That will probably sound arrogant, but it’s not intended to be.  Our plan was to have as natural a birth as possible and we had already started reading around this subject when we were lucky enough to meet one of the best midwives ever!  She’s called Nicole and you’ll know if you meet her from her accent which is hard to place.  English people think she sounds Australian and Australian people think she sounds English.  She was completely on our wavelength and helped guide us down the path to the birth that we wanted.

Kate listening to her hypnobirthing CD.  I had been exercising next to her
Amongst other things, Nicole recommended a film called Orgasmic Birth: The Best-Kept Secret.  One of the people in this film urged us to share our positive birth story.  This is to try and counter the negativity surrounding birth and to let people know that it doesn’t need to be as bad as you probably think it will be.  All you seem to hear when you’re pregnant (or are with your partner who is) are people’s horror stories of how terrible giving birth is.  Every birth I see on screen involves a woman screaming out in pain as though she’s having her leg amputated without anaesthesia.  This doesn’t reflect the whole truth and nothing like that happened while Kate was in labour.  I wonder if people are less inclined to share their positive stories for fear of belittling others’ experiences, or because it does kind of feel like boasting, but it isn’t, it’s just recognising that a different outcome is indeed possible and which, with the right preparation, can be yours too.

In for a checkup
There's a joke to be made here about stool samples
Kate started having tiny contractions around 13:00, which we kept between us - there didn’t seem any point getting people excited in case it was a false start.  We were out and about and on our way to my parents’ for lunch, where we ended up spending most of the afternoon.  We returned to the boat via the fish and chip shop and ate while watching something on the laptop.  After dinner, we went for a leisurely walk along the Thames.  By now the contractions had grown considerably in intensity and it was easier for Kate to manage them while standing.  We went back to the boat to get our labour bags which we had packed from lists from the NHS and elsewhere.  Whoever compiled those lists was something of a joker.  We ended up with three bags - one for me, one for Kate and one for the baby.  We could have easily made do with just one bag which would have made our lives after the birth much easier.  Actually, it would have made just my life easier because I was the muggins who had to carry all three bags like a packhorse.  Maybe this was my comeuppance for sending Kate off on her maternity work.  Who, for example, thought that I would need to take a book?  Does that person even know what labour is?  I diligently packed my Kindle with thoughts of lounging around in a comfy chair while we leisurely waited for the baby to come out.  Let’s just say that it didn’t happen like that and amongst other things, you do not need to take a book in your labour bag!

Time to turn that bump inside out
This was taken on our way out to get the taxi

We requested an Uber (taxi) just after midnight and had been assessed and put in the midwifery led suite by 01:00.  Just after 06:00, we got to meet our little girl.  Kate had done the whole thing using just her mind and her body.  She didn’t take any form of medication whatsoever.  She was exhausted and it was definitely not an easy thing to do, but neither was it that terrible.  Kate knew that she could do it and had trained herself to truly believe this.  Her body took care of the rest, including her pain management.  Because she was relaxed, confident, in the right environment and most importantly, not scared, all the right hormones could control the process as they are meant to do.

Fresh out of the oven.  Beth was actually born on the floor (on a mat) but we soon moved onto this comfy bed

I don’t deny that the fact that a man writing about how “easy” giving birth can be is ludicrous, but I do promise you that Kate has read, edited and given this post her full endorsement.  I was there with her throughout the experience and we have talked about it from each others’ points of views afterwards so although I didn’t actually push a watermelon through the eye of a needle myself, I’m not making things up.

This is where the magic happened.  The bed was folded up
until after the birth
We got delayed leaving hospital because there was a change of shift at 08:00 and our paperwork took ages to come through.  The papers we did get were muddled up but we didn’t realise this until we went to register Beth a few weeks later.  Luckily the registrar noticed that we were about to register someone else’s baby!  We didn’t mind staying in hospital while we waited, though, because we had our amazing new baby and we spent the time lounging on a nice big bed together enjoying being a family.

A very proud father
This tranquility didn't last and that towel
has never been the same since

I felt honoured during this time when Beth chose me as the canvas for her first work of art.  She covered me and an NHS towel in meconium (a baby’s first type of poo).  Man, that stuff is sticky!  It felt like I had been involved in an industrial accident at a treacle factory.  Trying to get it off both me and Beth was something of a struggle.  More unnecessary items came out of the labour bag in the form of olive oil and cotton wool, which is supposedly good for removing meconium.  It wasn’t.  After attempting a cleanup using those items, neither Beth nor I were any closer to being clean but now she was oiled up and as slippery as a wet bar of soap, which hindered further cleaning operations.  The only thing for it was to run her under the tap and make an even bigger mess of the NHS towel to rub it all off.  Luckily I didn't have to get either of our two towels dirty, which remained untouched in our bags thanks to that blasted packing list.

Pineapples don't
induce labour but fish
and chips does
By the time that was done and we had eaten a spot of hard-won breakfast, our paperwork was back and we were allowed to leave.  The problem with the breakfast was that when I enquired if we were going to get any food, it turned out that we had been forgotten from the breakfast round.  Unbelievably, the midwifery-led suite doesn’t get much use as most ladies elect to go on the ward to give birth, so the caterers weren’t used to checking in on that room.  The midwife cheerily told me to go to the kitchen myself and tell them what we would like.  So off I trotted, which involved leaving the midwifery-led suite, walking to the other side of the floor and going into the labour ward.  I strolled in and casually asked where the kitchen was.  It was at this point that I was subjected to an interrogation that the KGB would probably have felt was harsh.  The staff on the ward had mistaken me for a baby snatcher.  It took me a while to explain that stealing a baby would be a really bad idea for me because I already had my hands full with our own one and I didn’t want to have to deal with any more meconium than was necessary.

Wrapped up and ready to go
This was the departing shot as we left
the hospital
It was 10:45 by the time we could leave and we headed out to catch the train home.  For some reason, Kate had chosen that day to practise her John Wayne walk.  Although a bit slower than usual, she managed just fine.  She was clearly in discomfort, but she’s not one to make a fuss.  I didn’t mind the slower pace because I was struggling to carry the labour bags.  I took less stuff with me when I went to live in Canada for a year!  Once off the train, a short bus ride got us back to the marina where we could begin the rest of our lives.

My lovely ladies back home and resting up after their big night

I won’t go into details of how you can prepare for a swift, natural birth with a fast recovery because I imagine that everyone’s journey will be different, but I will list some of the resources that got us there at the end of this post.  I fully understand that in some situations, medical intervention is absolutely necessary and a life saver.  However, I firmly believe that in the current scheme of things, the vast majority of women are able to give birth without it.  Not only that, but the way labour is currently managed in hospitals actually makes the experience slower, more painful and stressful and is usually the reason that intervention is required in the first place.  Clearly, medical staff are doing the best they think they can and are giving their utmost to help women through childbirth.  The problem is in the way they have been trained to do so in Western society.  If we could change to a more natural method of birthing, which is in keeping with what our species has evolved to do over the last 65 million years or so, I think the NHS could save a stack of money and more importantly, women could look forward to experiencing the miracle that is birth rather than fearing it.

Our temporary home, Anna-Maria, in South Dock Marina
Those semaphone flags we're flying in the picture on the right read "Baby onboard"
You can take my opinion or leave it.  These are some of the resources, along with our own experience, that shaped it into what it is:
  • Bump: How To Make, Grow and Birth A Baby - Kate Evans
  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth - Ina May Gaskin
  • Childbirth and the Evolution of Homo Sapiens - Michel Odent
  • Orgasmic Birth ( We paid to rent this film from a link on that site - not sure if it's on Netfilx or anything
  • Natal Hypnotherapy CDs, by Maggie Howell (